"Full many a ray of purest ray serene the dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, and waste its sweetness to the desert air."
from "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" by Thomas Gray

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Dwadashajyotirlinga yatra : Day 11 - Baidyanath, and travel to Varanasi

The breakfast at the Seventeen Degrees hotel was in their restaurant on a floor below. 

Swamiji had assigned volunteers for many tasks on this trip. If the sense of doer-ship is not kept in check when performing an act of service, even the opportunity to serve feeds the ego - that one is on a pedestal as compared to the rest. The proximity and easy access to the Swamijis is added fodder for some egos. A yatra - piligrimage, is not just a trip to temples or holy sites, the purification happens within. Sitting on the couch at home is a pilgrimage if the mind is focused on Shiva. By the time this physical trip ends, a spiritual journey should have happened as well. Dipping in natural waters at holy spots is the same as taking a shower at home, and performing a pooja in sanctum sanctorum is the same as lighting a lamp at home. The mere act of visiting a temple does not earn merit. It is one's faith, fervour for spiritual growth, and surrender to the guru and God that wins divine grace. 

One of the most famous gurus of all times, Dronacharya, had organized an archery test for his young students - boys of royal blood in the Kuru kingdom. Why "boys of royal blood"? Why not princes? Because the children of royals born of maids were taught by Drona along with the children born to queens.  A wooden bird was placed on the branch of a tree across a river, and the eye of the bird was the target for the princes. Before allowing him to shoot, Drona would ask the student - what do you see? And each child's answer would contain some or more of - the sky, the river, the field, the tree, the bird, my Guru, the other princes,... and Drona would say - Step aside, you are not worthy to shoot. Finally, it was the turn of the Pandava prince Arjuna. His famous answer was - All I see is the eye of the bird. And the pleased guru said - Shoot, you alone are worthy of this test. Arjuna was not favored by his guru, nor was he treated differently for being a royal and a son of Indra, king of the gods. It was Arjuna's commitment to excel that got him the opportunity that others did not get.

If your mind is elsewhere, do not shoot, O Kaurava. People whose mind is anywhere other than Shiva should save themselves this trip and a load of money.

Back into the bus for a long ride, we had a lot of singing in the bus. We had a qualified singer, Natana, who had taught singing to children for many years. She sang very beautiful bhajans - hymns. Anantanandaji sang bhajans after that. Two gifted singers in the bus taking the name of the Lord, all conversation in the bus fell to a hush, and people listened and sang along if they knew the bhajan

Deoghar, where the temple of Baidyanath is located, is slightly over 140 miles from Dhanbad. It took us 4 hours to get there. There were forests along the way, and vast expanse of land generously covered with new vegetation. I tried to imagine how armies marched, spies sneaked, messengers rushed, traders traveled and monks walked this land for milleniums.

This was my first visit to Bihar and Jharkhand, and there were so many places I would have wanted to visit if I had more time to spend here. There were so many memories from history classes - Bodhigaya where the Buddha attained enlightenment, the ancient powerful kingdom of Magadha which gave rise to the Maurya dynasty and the Gupta dynasty, the Nalanda university which attracted students from all over the world and whose vast libraries are reported to have burned for three months when the Turkish Muslim invaders attacked and destroyed it, Jalamandir near Patna where Mahavir Jain was cremated, and so many other places and events from more recent history. Even if I spent a month here, I would have seen very little of this great region with such a long and incredible history that has gone into the making of modern India.

Closer to Deoghar, the beautiful rural life revealed itself - fields and streams, birds pecking away at the grass, cattle grazing at leisure, children playing in the long summer afternoons, farmers and farm workers, washerwomen by the river - some things are just eternal in India. 

The bus stopped a mile away from the temple, and we took cycle rickshaws to get to the temple.

Ashverya and I were seated in a cycle rickshaw pulled by a person whose every muscle strained each time he pushed on the foot pedals. A few times, we told him, we would get down and walk the rest of the way but he may have thought he would not get paid and insisted he could manage it. By the time we were through half the distance, Ashverya and I had upped the tip from Rs.100 to Rs.1000, that we were planning to give him on top of the fare that Dheeraj would pay him - he needed it more than us, and it was the very least we could do for him. Also, we managed to convince him we were better off walking. As we got down, Ashverya insisted we pay him the tip right now but my body is incapable of dealing with heat, and I was so identified with my body then that all I wanted to do was get in the shade. My skin was scorched. We could pay the man when we returned. 

The first few cycle rickshaws reached the west entrance of the temple, and we waited there in the scorching heat for the better part of an hour. The people behind us just would not show up. In the meantime, some people bought souvenirs.

There was a pump outside the west entrance of the temple, where a boy was pumping water and a little child was carrying water in little containers to her home across the street.

Hard-working children
Belatedly, we found out that the rest of the group had come to the temple from the north entrance, and were waiting inside. Now that the entire group was together, we got into line to perform the abhishek - annointment, of the lingam. Anantanandaji worked out the logistics and group payments with some priests in the temple. It appeared that we would not be able to do the abhishek - annointment, but we could go into the sanctum sanctorum and offer money and other goodies, and touch our heads to the lingam.

In all the temples I have seen in my life so far, with all the pushing and jostling for darshan - viewing and puja - worship, I have yet to see a garbha gruha - sanctum sanctorum, that is treated with less dignity. The priests of this temple were shouting at one another, and pushing out people brought by the other priests. Two priests got into a shoving match over the lingam like sumo wrestlers. I was afraid if one of them fell on the lingam, he would be impaled on the spot. I did not get to see the final result of that wrestling match because I was pushed out by people behind me after I had touched my head to the lingam. Shiva resides here, nothing else matters. Being impaled would be a unique blessing, I am sure, watching it would be a blessing too, but visiting the temple was blessing enough for me.
Five steps outside the sanctum sanctorum, a person was giving out rice saying - eat it, and donate something here. Two steps beyond that, a person was putting a tilak - mark on everyone's forehead, saying put money here. Two steps beyond that, a person was giving out vibhuti - ashes, and asking for money. All this was happening in the main temple, and the moment we got out into the courtyard, there were photographers, trash collectors, and others asking for money. On the one hand, I do not mind giving money who make their living around temples, especially the yard cleaners and others who put in toil and sweat. On the other hand, it is a bit much to be chanting Aum Namaha Shivaaya, and keep getting hit with a request for money every other minute. Maybe that's what Shiva wants here. I ran out of Rs.100 notes in a big hurry, and had to start giving out Rs.10 and Rs.20 notes. I am sure even that means a lot to some, I was left with the feeling that I had not brought enough to give. Lesson learned for the next temple. 
There are 12 other temples in the courtyard, one of them for Parvati. It is believed that when the charred remains of Sati fell to the ground, the heart fell at Baidyanath. The current temple complex is believed to have been built in the sixteenth century by the royal family of Giddhaur.

There is a bit of a dispute about this temple being a jyotirlinga. There is also the temple of Baijnath in Himanchal Pradesh and the Baidnath temple in Parli, Maharashtra - both have supporters that regard them as a jyotirlinga. In my humble opinion, any place where Shiva is worshipped is a place to be visited. If one is blessed with Shiva's grace, every shivalaya - house of Shiva, is a jyotirlinga. And when the cloud of ignorance is removed and one becomes conscious of the light of the Self shining forth, each form in creation is seen as a jyotirlinga.

When we got out, our cycle rickshaws were nowhere to be seen. We walked a bit, and kept walking, no clue where the cycle rickshaws were. It was frighteningly hot, and Venkatji took the children for chilled sodas, while I walked with Natana towards the bus. I don't believe in regret, but I do stay aware of missed opportunities. And if I had not been so identified with my body when I was getting out of the cycle-rickshaw, then I would have thought of that man's discomfort before my own, and given him the lavish tip then. Lesson learned for another time.

The bus was parked in front of the restaurant where we were supposed to have lunch. It took a good twenty minutes inside the building under air-conditioned vents for the body to cool down. 

As we waited for food, Natana balanced water bottles on her head, shaking all the while like the bobbing-head dolls of Thanjavur.

The lunch was the usual spread, and I admire the people who can eat in such heat. 

The bus had better air-conditioning than the hotel, and I slept for a good 2-3 hours before waking up to the natural beauty around. It was late afternoon, a large group of boys were playing cricket, a lonely cow walked on the road, and there was serenity in the landscape that has probably not changed much over the centuries.

The bus stopped at an opportune spot that we would be using as a rest area - open fields in a secluded area with trees and bushes. And soon after, a chai stop for the relieved passengers. Brewed chai and instant coffee was served from kettles in kulhad - earthen cups, giving the liquid of choice a very distinct flavor. This was reminiscent of some railway stations in Rajasthan that used to sell chai in kulhad, that we would look forward to, on our annual vacation trips by train from Gujarat to UP.

Once back in Dhanbad, we had a couple of hours in which to pack, and leave to catch the train at night. The train would stop at Dhanbad for 15 minutes in which 42 of us had to get into the coach with our duffel bags and backpacks and handbags. 

When we reached the railway station, here was the first challenge. Unlike at the airports, where we would collectively check in the duffel bags, we needed to identify our individual bags for the train where they needed to be stored under our seats. The second challenge was light - it was quite dark, and there was not much street light outside the train station, making the bag identification process quite lengthy, and we were in danger of missing the train. The third challenge was that there were no coolies - porters. I don't know about the rest, but my duffel bags were packed for flights and luggage carts, not for manual hauling by me. The fourth challenge was that the train was to come on platform 3, which meant that we would enter the station, climb about 50 stairs and cross the bridge that took us over two train tracks and then climb down to come to the third train track. It was physically impossible for many to carry their bags up and down the railway station, so the more able were burdened with making the trip twice or thrice. Panting and perspiring, we reached platform 3. Now there was a possible fifth challenge - the train could arrive on a different platform. It is akin to changing gates for flights, except that the railway station at Dhanbad does not have escalators and elevators. Luckily, this fifth challenge did not come to be. The train did arrive on platform 3. Hats off to the organizational skills of the Swamijis with logistics management - we were inside the train, duffel bags and all, in 15 minutes.

Inside the coach, I had a bottom berth on the wall, by the door. The compartments on one wall of the air-conditioned sleeper coach have a pair of three berths or bed-sized seats - one at a chair level, another at four feet, and the top berth at over five feet. Facing the compartment, on the other wall of the coach are two layers of single berths. The air-conditioning was working better than at any restaurant or hotel I had seen so far. To top it all, blankets, pillows and bed sheets were given out by an attendant - this was the Orient Express as far as I was concerned. 

This was Ashverya's first trip in an Indian train, and she loved it. There was packed dinner for everyone and surprise!!! - it was not the usual fare, there were puris and potato and rice and dal. I instantly gave up my rice and yogurt diet that I had managed for 2 weeks, and hungrily ate up the packed dinner. Ashverya and the other two children had their dinner together in the top berth of a compartment, and if the person assigned to that berth had not wanted to sleep, the party would have gone on.

 Around midnight, I was asked to sleep in a compartment in the inner part of the coach because the Swamijis needed the space around the door to organize the unloading of bags, and we would have very little time in Varanasi to get out of the train at 5 in the morning.

My eyes almost closed, I perched on the new berth and dozed off. I had a dim idea that I had neither a pillow, nor bed sheets nor a blanket. But I was draped in a sari, that I could wrap around myself and say goodnight to the world. A little while later, I became dimly aware that someone was giving me a pillow and putting a blanket on me. It was Vinayakji, his compassion is unbelievable. I got up in my half-sleep, and he spread bedsheets and once I lay down, he put a blanket over me. It felt nice to be babied, I would wake up in Varanasi now.

At 4 in the morning, we would be getting in line to offload bags and get off the train.

Aum Namaha Shivaaya!!          

No comments:

Post a Comment